My Disposable- Free Postpartum: How I Had A Zero- Waste Recovery

I am really excited to share this post.

If you know me at all (through Instagram, most likely), you know that I have had three babies in the past three years.
For each one, I wanted to go disposable-free for my recovery, but it wasn't until my very recent third baby/birth that I made the commitment to do it.
This post may contain affiliate links. Purchases made through this links pay me a small commission for my referral, at no extra cost to you. As always, I don't ever link anything I don't or wouldn't use myself.

Why did I want to give up disposable postpartum products?
I chose cloth for myself for the same reasons I chose to cloth diaper my babies: the comfort of cloth, the reduction of senseless waste, and the better quality and durability of reusables.

Oh, hey, I think it goes without saying, but this post is going to share some pretty detailed information about my postpartum bleeding and leaking breasts. I'm definitely not one to shy away from natural body topics, (as you'd know if you've read my menstrual cup post) but if you are, maybe this post isn't for you.
I'll go back to talking about baby poop next week.

Postpartum bleeding happens in stages, from heavy, to medium, to light, as it tapers off.
It varies a lot between women, and births.

The first 24- 48ish hours is usually the heaviest flow.
You have just pushed out a human, and an organ that your body grew to sustain this human while they were in there. This organ has left a hole the size of dinner plate in your uterus, so it's still bleeding pretty good.
This is the time where a lot of people wear Depends or other disposable adult diapers/incontinence underwear.

I know a lot of people like them, but I absolute loathe them.
My experience with Depends has been that they're uncomfortably paper-y and don't breathe, so they become sweaty and itchy.

I knew I wanted to get back into my normal, comfortable, cotton, granny panties the very night I gave birth.

It's probably worth noting that I give birth at home, so I am in charge of getting my own supplies for after the birth. I simply didn't buy disposable pads or incontinence pants, so they weren't an option that my midwife had prepared for me after birth. Since I didn't have a choice when it came down to it, it was an easy commitment for this birth. I would be really interested to hear about someone using cloth from hour one in a different birth setting.

What I used instead
I purchased a few 14.5-inch (like, HUGE) postpartum cloth pads, which I used to line my underwear, then I used flour sack towels on top of them.
I didn't fully trust cloth pads, "postpartum size" or not, to catch this kind of bleeding, nor could I afford, or justify, buying an entire stash of these huge pads that I would use for, like, two days.
I simply changed out the flour sack every time I went to the bathroom, and replaced the big ol' pad at the bottom if they happened to leak through on it.

This worked FABULOUSLY.

I did this for about a day, until my bleeding let up, then I started using it only at night.
Another note: I did hemorrhage with this birth, so my bleeding let up a lot earlier than most.

Bleeding had let up significantly to normal period flow by day 2-3. I switched to using heavy flow cloth pads.

A few days after, I was down to just using liners.

Or, rather, I could have been. I didn't have many liners in my stash at all, so I had to supplement with the heavy flow pads. I forget about postpartum recover, no matter how often I've been through it in the past three years.
I forgot light bleeding and spotting can come and go for weeks, so I wish I had stashed up on way more liners.

This is one thing I would have not had any issue investing in, either, since I do use liners in back up to my Ruby Cup during my cycle. So, I kind of regret that.

What made up my stash
Beside flour sacks, I had three different styles of cloth pads, because I wanted to try a variety to share:
  1. PUL-backed, fleece-topped pads from Buttons Diapers
    PUL backing makes these completely leak-free, and fleece on top gives a stay-dry feeling.
    I personally am not a fan of fleece, because it can also be kind of sweaty.
    Some people complain about PUL backing sliding around on pads, but I didn't have that problem THIS TIME. I used these before, and I did. It all has to do with what type of underwear you're wearing. Snug, cotton underwear keeps them from sliding.

    These pads are shockingly absorbent, though they're very thin. They are super affordable, starting at $15 for three small pads.

    Also available at Diaper Junction

  2. Hidden PUL, cotton-topped pads from Imse Vimse
    These have the PUL in them, but they have an extra layer of cotton covering it to prevent any kind of sliding. They're all organic cotton, which can be more prone to staining, but I personally find it way more comfortable than fleece.
    These are thicker pads, but ultra absorbent. They were my absolute favorite, because I just love cotton. I also like the white, because I like to track my bleeding.

    They are also extremely affordable, starting at three for $19, for liners
  3. Fleece-backed, cotton-topped pads from various Etsy shops
    Leak-resistant fleece is used for backing, instead of PUL. I purchased ones with both cotton flannel, and woven cotton topping.
    I recommend the woven over flannel, since flannel becomes pilly and ugly.
    Fleece backing ensures they don't slide at all.
    These are comfortable and work great, though the fleece does get pilly and ugly pretty fast.

    My favorite of these were from Yurtcraft (I used her postpartum pads). The other Etsy pads I tried, I don't like enough to recommend.

How many cloth pads do you need for postpartum recovery?
This was one of the biggest questions that I had when looking into buying them while pregnant. I realized the rule of thumb is the same as with cloth diapers- plan on changing about every two hours, when you use the bathroom. Simple!

Don't forget the cloth nursing pads
The first disposable swap I knew I was 100% going to do this time was cloth breast/nursing pads.
This is such a simple, and pretty affordable, choice.

I went basic and bought some cotton pads from this shop here, which I really liked. They're so comfortable and can be purchased in so many cute patterns.
They do soak through fast during those really leaky days, but like diapers, I change them immediately once wet. A set of six was enough for me because I do a load of laundry daily.

I wish I had tried a few others, so I had a few more options to share.
I know Imse Vimse has some PUL-lined ones, and I am also REALLY curious about the wool ones, because I love wool.

I personally don't use nursing pads very much.
I'm really leaky** the first couple of weeks, where I will need to switch the pads out for new ones almost every nursing session. I also used them to protect my clothes from nipple butter, (psstt... I used my herbal balm and found it SO soothing!), but beyond that, I don't really use them unless I'm going out. Which is like, never.
In fact, I still have disposable ones left from the one box I bought for my first baby, haha!

**I cannot recommend getting a silicone breast pump enough!! It will save all that leaky milk (and then some) in those first few weeks. It was one of my best baby purchases EVER. I have this one.

Overall, I highly recommend giving cloth a go for the recovery of birth. It is so comfortable and super easy, especially if you already cloth diaper!

I would love to answer any questions you have about postpartum cloth, or cloth pads in general. I had an absolutely amazing experience using them for my postpartum recovery, definitely would do it again, and highly recommend it!


  1. What type of wash routine did you use for your postpartum cloth? Something similar to your cloth diapers? Did you wash them with diapers or clothes at all?

    1. Yes! I will hopefully get around to some of this logistics once I'm done blogging about newborn diapers. I didn't want to this post to get any more lengthy than it already is.
      I washed with diapers. I kept a wet bag in the bathroom, then I emptied it in the machine with diapers when I washed them. Super easy! If I didn't cloth diaper, I probably would just run them through a rinse cycle before washing with regular laundry.

  2. I realize that this is an older post but I really wanted to share this somewhere... my menstrual cycle is extreme. My last postpartum was nothing compared to my regular cycle, if that tells you anything. I am also an older mom (43 when my last baby was born). Someday I’m sure I will need incontinance pads (adult diapers). So, the easy answer might be to save those old cotton undies or buy a few and then sew the pads to them. I haven’t done it yet so maybe it won’t work after all but my guess is that it will. Old dish towels, diapers, T-shirt’s PUL in there... but simple off and on, can make it really long. No wiggle. Also, for storage... a cute teapot on the back of the potty makes it invisible and you can boil them after if you want to do that. I stopped using cloth because my cycle is so very heavy but I am excited to put this idea into action!

  3. Where did you purchase the 14.5" postpartum cloth pads you mention at the top of your post? Thanks!

    1. My huge postpartum pads that I used for backing the flour sack towels were from the shop Yurtcraft on Etsy :)

  4. Hey! Thanks so much for the extremely helpful rundown. I was wondering how big of a stash you would recommend given that I'm also hoping to take your recommendation for using flour sack towels to prolong the "life" of the postpartum pads at the beginning. I'm thinking of getting the imse vimse 3-pack plus maybe a couple big yurtcraft pads as well? Would you recommend using the imse vimse pads with flour sack towels as well?

    1. Sorry, late here! I recommend having enough to change about every three hours (every time you use the bathroom), so about 5 per day, then depending on how frequently you will wash. So for every other day, you'd want 10 at a minimum. I do not use the flour sacks with the Imse Visme, they are absorbent enough on their own! I haven't updated this post yet, but I just had another baby and my new favorite pads are Bear and Boho's. They are sold at Wayfaring Baby if you are in the US and very affordable!